As for his own artistry these days, Boepple seeks, as always, that indescribable state of being inside the music.
“It’s a realm that’s not easy to penetrate. It’s like looking way into someone’s eyes and understanding what they’re about. Music to me is a living thing, like a flower coming out of the ground. Nobody understands life. Music is the same way. The fact that 12 tones and some rhythms can give rise to musical works that could fill this building, that there isn’t a human emotion that can’t be expressed by such simple materials, that activate these things inside us—my God, it’s miraculous. On the one hand, it’s physics, just physics. On the other hand, it can tear your heart out.”
His music department co-chair, Teresa McCollough, has a Steinway in her office, too, but she prefers to practice at home, undisturbed.
McCollough, who’s been teaching here since 1991, is a major-league interpreter and creator of new music. She’s premiered works by Lou Harrison, George Crumb, and other maverick composers, including many pieces commissioned and composed for her. Lately, she’s been composing and improvising more of her own music, an urge fueled by her continuing involvement in composer Steve Heitzig’s “World Piece.” It consists of musical fragments or simple pictures suggesting each of the 192 countries in the United Nations. Heitzig wrote a piece a day for 192 days, giving McCollough the freedom to summon Togo or Turkmenistan through improvisation.
“I love the improvisational feeling,” said McCollough, who directs SCU’s far-ranging Music@Noon series and the Santa Clara New Music Festival, sitting at her desk with the morning light filtering in through the camphor tree outside her window. As an artist, what matters most to her is “creating new music, creating new sounds—and creating an audience to appreciate it.” As a teacher, that means giving students “an understanding of why art and creativity are important to the human condition. We’ve gone far away from that because there’s fear out there, of competing in the global market. Much of the recent educational legislation in this country has been created out of a sense of fear or competitiveness.” Still, McCullough is upbeat about the arts, particularly in a hospitable environment like SCU.
“Thirty-five years ago, new music was taught in a very academic and detached sort of way. Now we’re living in a time that’s like the Romantic period. So many diverse sounds are being accepted and coming together. For me to be able to explore that, and teach that to my students—to say, ‘Hey, isn’t that cool?’—is really rewarding.”
Across the lawn, in the basement of the Louis B. Mayer Theatre, Barbara Murray sat in her office taking care of Department of Theatre and Dance business. Being department chair, the noted costume designer doesn’t get to spend as much time working with the Children’s Theatre Outreach Program, which she created on campus in 1982. As an artist, in her work with Santa Rosa’s Summer Repertory Theatre and many other companies, her focus continues to be “on the integrity of costumes,” she said, “and helping the actors develop their characters through the clothing they’re wearing.”
After years of starved school arts budgets, Murray sees “a significant lack of creativity” among adult students and young kids. “They’re not used to the freedom,” said the straight-talking woman with a great laugh. She grew up seeing theatre at the Old Ship, the huge 19th-century SCU dormitory that became a theater seating 2,000 people until it was razed in 1962. Her father, R. Ian Murray, taught mechanical engineering at Santa Clara beginning in 1951. As kids did in slower times, she and her siblings made up plays and performed them for whoever would watch.
More than ever, she said, “I want to give my students passion. I want to give them a sense of the magic about it all, like you’re a little kid, creating new worlds and being able to see new possibilities. Imagining new worlds, you can look at reality and say, ‘Hey, it doesn’t have to be that way. Maybe we can change it.’”